On January 26, President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings gave these remarks to the convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina:
Good afternoon. My name is Gay Jennings and I am an Episcopalian. And I thank God you are too. My mother used to say that the only person who likes change is a wet baby. Change has been forced upon you, and I am here to tell you that the prayers of the the House of Deputies and the entire Church are with you as you renew, reorganize, reorder, refresh, reconstitute, and indeed, resurrect the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Today, as you’ve heard from the Presiding Bishop, is the commemoration of Timothy, Titus and Silas, to whom Paul entrusted the work of building up the church. It’s an apt feast day for this convention.
Tomorrow’s commemoration of Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe is equally apt. They were three devout women who also helped build the early church. We don’t know much about them since they were disciples at a time when women’s work went largely unrecorded. Lydia, we know, was a prosperous cloth merchant whose house served as a base of operations for Paul, Timothy, and their companions. Phoebe, historians believe, was the patroness of the early church in Corinth, and Dorcas devoted herself to works of charity in Joppa.
Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe served God with the gifts they had been given. The collect for their commemoration asks God to “Inspire us today to build up your Church with our gifts in hospitality, charity and bold witness to the Gospel of Christ.”
Like in the early church, all of you faithful Episcopalians in South Carolina will need everyone’s gifts to create a new church for a new time. Some of you are the heirs of Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe and serve God by providing hospitality, charity and witness. Others of you bear witness to the Gospel by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and proclaiming justice for the oppressed. Still others of you will be elected today to serve in diocesan governance. Some of you will, when the election is called, be elected as deputies, and you will offer your gifts at the General Convention, which is the governing body and highest authority in The Episcopal Church.
Whatever our gifts, Episcopalians are bound by the Baptismal Covenant, which is the foundational expression of our Episcopal identity. We are all ministers of the gospel by virtue of our baptism. It is our first and most important ordination for ministry.
When I wrote to you last month, I suggested that you take heart especially in our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. There are times ahead when that will be a hard promise to keep, I wrote—when it may seem as if the great breadth of conviction, experience and practice among Episcopalians threatens to overwhelm your longing for unity and clarity.
But if you look around this historic convention, and you remember the communion of saints that has gone before you, I hope you will be convinced, as I am, that our Anglican comprehensiveness is our particular gift from God and a great blessing for your diocese. Follow the Anglican middle way and it will guide you between extremes in the company of Christians from all walks of life and all gifts of the Spirit. The middle way is seldom the easiest path. It is easier to walk apart, surrounded by people who look like you, think like you, and believe like you. But if you travel the middle way, you will find the fruits of the Spirit.
As you travel along the way that God is leading the faithful Episcopalians of South Carolina, I will pray for you and walk with you whenever I can be of service. Please call or email anytime you would like to talk about General Convention, the role of deputies, and how the House of Deputies can assist you in your mission and ministry. We are all praying for you, and we are all eager to support you on your journey.
Let me close with a prayer by Bishop Philips Brooks, author of the lyrics of “O Little Town of Bethlehem:”
Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger. Pray not for crutches but for wings.